Saturday, 21 September 2013

Thinking over Street Art

Breaking Bad Graffiti in Manchester

Do you reckon this image? This is one of the two controversial murals Akse P.19 has made in Manchester: Two portraits of the main characters of Breaking Bad, an American series that goes deep into drug's business world. As the images has gone viral, we can say that this is a quite successful marketing campaign for the city, the neighbourhood and, of course, the author, so what's the problem?

Bristol Upfest
Bristol Upfest

Some of the neighbours think having Walker White and Hank Schrader related with Manchester's Northern Quarter is not so good, more if we take in count that in 2011 two men were arrested for running a crystal meth lab not too far.
But let's be honest, that relation between Northern Quarter and drugs is not new, indeed it's probably the reason the author or the promoter choose these faces for that spaces. These murals replacing the old graffiti walls can be considered, ironically, an attempt of changing the vision of the neighbourhood, a try for creating tourist spots in an already degraded area which could generate some movement.
Bansky Graffiti in Bristol
Bansky Graffiti in Bristol

This is not a new idea, using street art to boost a borough is something that some cities have been doing for years, with a relative small investment and huge results than, nowadays with a mobile in every pocket, could be even bigger.

The question is, how can we, as society, impulse street art if we still relate it with vandalism?


Thursday, 19 September 2013

Birmingham's Big City Plan, the Concept

Birmingham Big City Plan
Big City Masterplan, Birmingham. See it bigger

When I told my friends I was going to move to UK their first reaction was "ok, then we need a goodbye party, you must pay"... cheeky bastards...


Rotunda in 1983
Wikipedia
Birmingham 1992
Summer Olympic Games Bid Logo
Wikipedia
Anyway, some of them reacted a bit different asking about the city was going to be my new home: Manchester? London? Edinburgh? Bristol?... no one of them knew anything about Birmingham. The weird face they made when I said Birmingham was quickly replaced by a surprise expression as they knew it was the second city of the United Kingdom.

Obviously, I'm not the only one that has noticed that Birmingham is not well-known. Birmingham Government has tried to sort this out for years: Back in the 60s Rotunda's building was due to be a new icon worldwide known, much more later in the 80's Brum bid for the Olympics that went finally to Barcelona, and now with the Big City Plan.

So what's the Big City Plan?

The Big City Masterplan is a 20 years Strategic Plan for the city of Birmingham with the aim of creating a world class city centre. As any new urbanism plan, is focus in creating walkable spaces, green zones and an attractive city center able to project the city image and engage the visitors... But the different point about this project, the interesting thing is the magnitude.

Brum is a low density city and the city core nowadays is small. It's quite difficult to imagine the size of Birmingham just walking along New Street, so the key point is not renovating the city centre as in most of this kind projects, the main aim is to enlarge it and densify it.

There is 5 main areas, any of them more than enough for a whole blog, but don't worry, I'm not pretending to write much more in this post, but just for enumerate them:
  1. West Side: The new Central Library is just the beginning, next step Paradise Circus.
  2. Snow Hill District: It's time to enlarge the consolidated Business Core.
  3. New Street Station: The main Door re-opens soon.
  4. Eastside: Hello HSL.
  5. Southern Gateway: The new Digbeth.

Let's see if this bid is the right one!

P.S.: I don't know which of them is going to be the next one about Brum, if you have interest in any of them, just let me know ;).

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Brum's new face, the Birmingham Central Library

New Central Library of Birmingham
New Birmingham Central Library

After more than two years of intense construction activity, the new Central Library of Birmingham finally opened the 3rd of September. With theaters, music rooms, a new art gallery and, of course, books, this huge Library is due to be a truly point of reference in Birmingham UK and Europe's culture complexes. But this building is only one step of a much more ambitious plan...

Birmingham is the second largest city in the United Kingdom, it has a healthy industry, well known universities in the UK, an interesting cultural life... but even with that, Birmingham doesn't have a "brand". Indeed that's not true, Birmingham has an inherited reputation of industrial city, "grey" or "dump" have been associated with it for so long that, even it that's not so true anymore, it's still in the common thoughts when an outsider thinks about Brum. That's obviously not good for Birmingham, it slow its grown and it keeps invests away, so is not an option to consider, it's a necessity to re-brand the city.

And here we go back with the new library. As I said this is not only a complex focused in being a reference in Culture, this is also one important step for a bigger plan, the Westside Developement of the Birmingham Big City Plan (I have the intention of write about this in the future).


Paradise Circus Developement
The next step is simple, demolishing the old library and building brand new ones. If you take a look to the renders and the plan it seems to be a quite "Brindley Place II" Project, and the result appears to be quite far more integrated with the historic buildings than the old one, but have we learnt the lesson?

I mean, at the end of the day, Birmingham's old Library is maybe an ugly building, but it has character, it's an example of the architecture of his age and, in the future, it could be appreciated as that, are this new buildings giving us that or they are going to be so old as the old library in 40 years time?